Thursday, 13 September 2012

Controversial movie reportedly tied to anti-Muslim group

Steven Klein, the self-described "consultant" for the maker of the anti-Islam movie that sparked violence in Libya, has a history of leading anti-Islamic protests and campaigns. But the identity of the moviemaker himself still remains a mystery.

By NBC News staff and wire reports

Updated 12:22 p.m. ET: ?Innocence of Muslims? -- the crude and provocative anti-Islam video blamed for a wave of deadly violence against U.S. diplomatic outposts -- was promoted by a small band of anti-Muslim Christian activists, according to reports, but the true identity of its director remained unclear.

The Associated Press said Wednesday one of those behind the film was a Calif. Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes.?It said Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, claimed to have helped with logistics for the film because it highlighted?the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department?spokesman Steve Whitmore told NBC News officers were called out to a house on Wednesday night by a resident concerned for his own safety, but was unable to confirm whether the call was from Nakoula.

A trailer for the amateurish film, posted on YouTube in July and later reposted after being translated into Arabic, portrays Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be God?s prophet, variously as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser. A man who said his name was?"Sam Bacile" claimed to have made the film in an interview on Tuesday.

The translated clip, shown repeatedly on Egyptian television stations in recent weeks, sparked protests across the Middle East and North Africa and was blamed for inciting an attack in Libya on Tuesday that killed the U.S. Ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans.

NBC's Kerry Sanders talks about the controversial pastor's history of provocative acts against Islam and how he may be tied to an inflammatory film that has sparked uproar within the global Muslim community.

The Quran forbids any depiction of Muhammad, and most Muslims regard any attempt to insult him as highly offensive.?A Danish newspaper's 2005 publication of 12 caricatures of the prophet triggered riots in many Muslim countries.

The AP late Tuesday reported?it had interviewed the film's director, identifying him as "Sam Bacile." It said he was a 56-year-old Israeli American real estate developer from California who had made the movie by raising $5 million from wealthy Jewish donors.?However, there were strong indications that ?Sam Bacile? was an alias and that the film, tied to U.S.-based Christians with extreme anti-Islamic views, was produced on a low budget in southern California using actors apparently unaware of the film?s ultimate purpose.

Nakoula told the AP he knew ?Bacile? but denied posing as him in Tuesday's interview.?However, the cell phone number used by AP to originally contact ?Bacile? was traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers show Nakoula's past aliases have included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others.?

Obama: Egypt not an ally of US, but not an enemy

The AP said it obtained the cellphone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who has promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website.

Not Israeli, 'likely not Jewish'
The Atlantic quoted a man reported by the AP to be a consultant on the film, Steve Klein, as saying that ?Bacile? is a pseudonym and that the filmmaker ?is not Israeli and most likely not Jewish.?

Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic he doesn?t know the man?s real name and indicated that the film maker contacted him because Klein leads anti-Islam protests outside mosques and schools.

The New York Times said Klein, whom it described as a Vietnam veteran whose son was severely wounded in Iraq, is ?notorious across California for his involvement with anti-Muslim actions, from the courts to schoolyards to a weekly show broadcast on Christian radio in the Middle East.?

The 13-minute English-language trailer for the film was posted on YouTube in July by an account registered to a Sam Bacile. It shows the cast performing a wooden dialogue, with insults cast as revelations about Muhammad dubbed over the top.

TODAY's Matt Lauer speaks with security analyst Michael Leiter about the likelihood that the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya was a pre-meditated act by a group of al-Qaida sympathizers rather than a spontaneous uprising over an anti-Muslim Internet video.

Cindy Lee Garcia, of Bakersfield, California, who appears briefly in clips of the film posted online, said she answered a casting call last year to appear in a movie titled "Desert Warrior."?

"It looks so unreal to me, it's like nothing that we even filmed was there. There was all this weird stuff there," Garcia told Reuters in a phone interview.?

Garcia said the film was shot in the summer of 2011 inside a church near Los Angeles, with actors standing in front of a "green screen," used to depict background images. About 50 actors were involved, she said.?

Libya pledges to help US catch American officials' killers

An expired casting notice at listed a film named "Desert Warrior" that it described as a low-budget "historical Arabian Desert adventure film." None of the characters were identified in the casting call as Muhammad.?

"They told me it was based on what it was like 2,000 years ago at the time of the Lord," Garcia said. "Like the time Christ was here."

A source close to the cast and crew of the film told NBC News that ?Bacile? misled the actors and production crew.

"The entire crew and cast are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," the source said. "We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."

Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters

The U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed after protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad stormed the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, as protests spread across the region.

The L.A. Times reported that the full-length film, originally titled ?Innocence of Bin Laden,? was shown June 23 to an audience of less than 10 at a theater on Hollywood Boulevard, Calif., citing a source familiar with the screening.

The source said an ?attractive? woman stood on Hollywood Boulevard and tried to interest passers-by in the movie, but got few takers, the Times reported. "The acting was of the worst caliber," the source said.

A man who answered a phone listed for the Vine Theater, a faded movie house on Hollywood Boulevard, told the AP the film had run for a least a day, several months ago.

Timeline: Political fallout from the attack on diplomats in Libya

Israeli officials also told the AP that there was no record of an Israeli citizen named "Sam Bacile." California corporate records show no one by that name as holding a real estate license there.

Film news site The Wrap said?the Arabic-dubbed version of the trailer had garnered more than 40,000 views by Tuesday afternoon, although the clip appeared to have been taken down by Wednesday morning.

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor whose burning of Qurans previously sparked deadly riots in Pakistan and other Muslim nations, had tried to promote the film on Tuesday as part of a series of 9/11 anniversary events at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.

The attack on the Libyan consulate, as it happened

Jones told NBC News on Wednesday that he aired the trailer once previously in his makeshift church but that efforts to screen it on Tuesday were thwarted by technical difficulties.

"I have not met him. Sam Bacile, that is not his real name," Jones told the AP. "I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him."?

The Jewish Journal reported that the name "Sam Bacile" appeared to be ?completely unknown among both Jewish and Israeli leaders in Los Angeles, including top-level people involved in the film industry.?

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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